Bowman’s Hill Tower and Wildflower Preserve

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As a child growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate the local historical and natural features surrounding me. But certain memories were deeply imprinted and have remained through my adult life in California. One of my fondest memories is the numerous Sunday afternoon family visits to Bowman’s Hill Tower and Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, both located in Washington Crossing Historic Park. This is the real, historic Washington Crossing, where General Washington and Continental Army troops crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, on their way to a surprise attack and defeat of Hessian troops several miles downriver near Trenton, New Jersey, leading the way to a turning point in the Revolutionary War. For my siblings and me, visiting the park almost always included a walk on some of the trails in the Wildflower Preserve and a climb – probably a race, when we could get away with it – to the top of the tower. We also often stopped off in a special room in the Visitor Center with a window wall facing bird feeders and the adjacent wooded area, for some up-close bird viewing.

Recently I made two brief visits to the park: one to climb the tower and visit the bird viewing room, and another to walk along some of the wildflower paths. For the visit to the tower, my siblings were all present, and that made it a truly special occasion. The tower sits atop a 400-foot hill overlooking the Delaware River and its valley. The tower is surrounded by trees, so you really can’t get an overview view of it except looking upward from the base.

picture of Bowman’s Hill Tower

Bowman’s Hill Tower

The tower was built between 1929 and 1931 as a commemorative to Washington, his army, and the Delaware River Crossing. It looks like a lookout tower, and it certainly seems as though this hill might have been a good place for a lookout to be located. The tower is 125 feet tall. Today an elevator goes ¾ of the way to the top, but we were delighted to discover that the original staircase, which spirals around inside the shell of the tower, is still in place. Needless to say, we all walked up the stairs. The final 23 steps are inside a smaller diameter tower (at the left, in the photo) in a very tight spiral.

From the top, the views of the river and valley are quite beautiful. Here is a view looking roughly northwest and showing two bridges crossing the Delaware River.

photo of view northwest from Bowman’s Hill Tower

View northwest from Bowman’s Hill Tower

Turning to look downstream, here is a view looking roughly southeast toward Trenton. These two views illustrate what a nice lookout hill this might have made.

image of view southeast from Bowman’s Hill Tower

View southeast from Bowman’s Hill Tower

As it turns out, while descending the tight spiral at the top of the tower, I mis-positioned one foot on a step, lost my balance, and tweaked my ankle. I walked the rest of the way down to ground level – it would have taken a more severe fall to cause me to abandon the walk – but we all decided to defer a wildflower walk until another day.

Instead, we went into the Wildflower Preserve’s Visitor Center and spent some time in the bird viewing room. Almost immediately we noticed several rose-breasted grosbeaks taking turns at one of the feeders. Here is one of the males, showing off his beautiful coloring.   The photo is not the best, but a wire net between the windows and the feeders – which kept the birds from flying into the window panes – made it difficult for me to convince the autofocus on my camera where I wanted it to focus.

picture of rose-breasted grosbeak (male)

Rose-breasted grosbeak (male)

I had a little better luck with this tufted titmouse, a favorite visitor to the feeders we’d had outside our living room window at home.

photo of tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I returned another day with my sister and brother-in-law for a short walk on some of the paths in the Wildflower Preserve, which is at the base of Bowman’s Hill. I was impressed to learn that the web site lists flowers in bloom for each month of the year (well, just one or two covering November through February), and the Visitor Center staff have copies of a list that is updated frequently, including which trails are likely places to find each wildflower that “you may find in bloom today”. We were especially hoping to find a jack-in-the-pulpit, a beautiful childhood favorite. We were unsuccessful, but enjoyed a leisurely walk along several trails.

GPS track

GPS track

Most of the trails are quite short, with frequent distance markers. From the Visitor Center we started up the Cabin Trail, which goes to a cabin, and then took the Azalea and Millrace Trails, which meander next to Pidcock Creek. The trails are well-signed, and many are named for wildflowers that grow along them.

image of sign denoting Azalea Trail

Sign denoting Azalea Trail

At 0.4 mi in length, Millrace Trail is one of the longer trails in the preserve. We decided to walk its entire length to see what we would find along the creek. We saw many forest plants that we did not recognize, as well as lush ferns enjoying the moist environment. We found one particular log on the ground with an interesting assortment of different shaped and colored fungi growing on the cross-sectional surface.

picgture of fungus growing on a log

Fungus growing on a log

It was delightful to walk along and listen to veeries, wood thrushes, catbirds, and other forest birds. Just after we had reached the far end of Millrace Trail and turned around, we heard an eastern wood pewee singing its distinctive “pee-a-wee” song over and over. It seemed close to the trail, and soon we saw it fly from one perch to a different tree, where we could actually see it.

photo of eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

After we returned to the Visitor Center we walked a very short distance along the park road to the Marshmarigold Trail, one of the “target” trails in our search for jack-in-the-pulpit. While we didn’t find a jack-in-the-pulpit, we did find several pretty wild irises.

image of wild iris

Wild iris

Next we crossed Pidcock Creek and walked the (short) length of Violet Trail, again looking for jack-in-the-pulpit. Then we crossed the park road to explore Gentian Trail, a trail name I could almost hear my dad talk about in my memories. Along this trail we found skunk cabbage, with its extra-large leaves, and these pretty, small, light-green bell-like flowers just a few millimeters across. I think the small leaves near the center of the picture belong to the flowers, while the larger leaves, which remind me of Solomon’s seal, are from an adjacent plant.

picgture of small bell-like flower

Small bell-like flower

We also found a pretty spider web glistening in the filtered sunlight.

photo of spider web

Spider web

Returning from the end of the Gentian Trail loop, we walked along Azaleas at the Bridge Trail and Aster Trail back to the Visitor Center. The entire wildflower trail walk was only 1.8 miles, but it was a wonderful walk down memory lane.

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